The Bellinghman (bellinghman) wrote,
The Bellinghman

#115 Gavin Menzies: 1421: The Year China Discovered the World

Gavin Menzies: 1421: The Year China Discovered the World

Paperback: 649 pages
Publisher: Bantam; New Ed edition (23 Nov 2004)
ISBN-10: 0553815229
Category(ies): Speculative History

I started reading this book with some interest. After all, the Chinese were much more technically advanced than the traditional European view of history would show, and with ocean going ships all over the Western Pacific, a thesis that some junks had got to the Americas wasn't so obviously silly. Menzies tells of the Ming Dynasty 'Treasure Fleets', from a time when China was flexing its muscles and trying to bring the whole world under its influence. And then, a lightning strike caused half the newly built Forbidden City to burn down, and the internal politics of China, stretched under the costs of building a new capital and the great fleets, caused China to retreat from exploration and to cease to be a great sea-going nation.

Unfortunately, Menzies lost it. He not only has the Chinese mapping the Americas, but Antarctica, New Zealand, Australia, Greenland, in fact the entire world with the exception of Europe (well, no European has reported Chinese fleets off Dover). He posits a circumnavigation of Greenland, and ships sailing back to China along the north Siberian coast! Among some of his loonier bits of evidence is a tower in New England. This he purports to be a lighthouse built by abandoned Chinese colonists waiting for the next (never to come) fleet. Actually, it's seventeenth century, built by Benedict Arnold (grandfather of his famous namesake), and is an almost perfect duplicate (minus cap and sails) of a windmill near Leamington in England. Not a very Chinese area, Leamington.

Much of the rest of his evidence is as doubtful as this. If you've only read the book, then it does seem plausible (well, excepting the sudden ability of the Chinese to sail through the Arctic, when previously they couldn't tell the difference between ice and land).

An entertaining mix of fact and fantasy, mostly the latter.
Tags: books, reviews

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